My Favorite Music of 2014

Here we go again.  This yearly list is one of the last remaining rituals from when this blog was much more focused on reviews of and discussions about current art and media; I used to post frequent movie and music reviews, and slowly over the years it morphed into a much more personal blog.  Early on, I posted multiple year-end “favorite” lists (I avoid calling them “best of” lists, but only because it seems to piss some of you off).  One year I went as far to make a Favorite Poetry, Favorite Television, Favorite Magazines, Favorite Movies, and Favorite Music lists!  The last 3 or so years, I have only made a music list.  I still like to closely follow new-release movies, but I can no longer make a pointed effort to see enough of them in a timely fashion to make a comprehensive yearly list.

If you have any interest, you can see past year’s music lists here (they did go even further back, but they were on MySpace blogs that have unfortunately disappeared):

Favorite Music of 2013

Favorite Music of 2012

Favorite Music of 2011

Favorite Music of 2010

Favorite Music of 2009

As per usual, if you are a person who routinely gets mix discs and other neat stuff from me in the mail, a mix disc featuring a selection from all of this year’s listings is already in the mail on it’s way to you.  If you are not one of these people and want to be, leave a blog comment/ send me a Facebook message/ text me/ call me/ hit me up on Tinder (huh?) and I’ll put you on the list!  Now, the winners:

This was an especially fertile year for music for me; I’d estimate I listened to approximately 80 new-release albums this year, and really loved about half of those.  This was by far the most difficult year I’ve had when it comes to narrowing down my selections!  Some of my favorite artists had no releases this year, so it was easier to not play favorites and just judge what moved me the most.  Here are the top fifteen, in order:

15.  Modest Mouse, “Lampshades on Fire”

This is the first time in the history of my lists that I have included a single song instead of an album, but I didn’t see as I had a choice.  Modest Mouse’s new album doesn’t come out until March 2015, but this lead single, which was released about 3 weeks ago, has been almost the only thing I’ve been listening to since it came out.  An absolute piece of snarling perfection.

14.  Real Estate, Atlas

If you have any idea what “shoegaze” rock is, and you haven’t heard this album, may I suggest you stop being an idiot?

13.  Phish, Fuego

Finally a return to form after a number of disappointing releases, Fuego finds the band weaving tight, crisp jams over sparse but giddy lyrics that start to hint at the pains of being post-middle age, with a little bit of supreme confidence thrown in for good measure.

12.  Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea

This New York post-punk-post-pop-pre-rockabilly (huh?  Here I am just joking; the music media loves to label Parquet Courts in so many ways it is ludicrous; they just make “rock” music, albeit kinda…punky?  Amateury?) really hit their stride this year, releasing two back-to-back masterpieces (the second, Content Nausea, being released by their alter ego band, Parkay Quarts).  These taut, coiled, short screeds blast at you like beautiful insults; they are loveable songs that you want to run from.

11.  The Orwells, Disgraceland

The Orwells steamrolled onto everybody’s radar this year with this unforgettable performance on Letterman.  That song (called “Who Needs You”) also features some truly daring lyrics: “You better count your blessings/ kiss your ma and pa/ You better burn that flag/ ’cause it aint against the law!/ Listen up forefathers:/ I’m not your son/ You better save the country/ You better pass the flask/ You better join the army/ I said: no thank you, dear old uncle sam!”.  When their full-length album, Disgraceland, was released shortly after the Letterman appearance, it didn’t much matter that it was a disappointing collection of small-talent noise rock: “Who Needs You” was a song debut good enough to buy them a few years of grace period.

10.  The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

war_on_drugs_lost_in_the_dream_album

These home-grown Philly boys blew me away with the first track on this album (while not their first album, it’s their first ‘major’ album, and the first I’d heard).  The album is aptly titled, as, if I had to name this genre of rock, I’d call it Dream Rock.  Standout track “Under the Pressure” was my anthem of early summer this year, and provided a soundtrack on repeat for my visit home to Central PA and my friend Michael’s wedding.  I have a clear memory of sitting in my dad’s car after arriving to her wedding, blasting the air conditioning, listening to “Under the Pressure” on repeat, and waiting to get out of the car until I saw someone I knew.

9.  El Ten Eleven, For Emily

One of the more unique “post-rock” outfits in the biz, this duo utilizes looping and custom instruments to create full, intensely emotive sounds.  For Emily is just a 5-song EP, but it is far from a toss-off and there is zero filler.  The production is crisper and cleaner than I’m used to from these guys; I can hear the guitarist’s fingers on the strings, a pleasant departure from the more clinical sound of their earlier (and still amazing) records.

8. Willis Earl Beal, Experiments in Time

The supremely “artsy” blues-psychedlia-R&B crooner of last year’s exquisite Nobody Knows came back right away with a solid follow-up; however, Experiments in Time lacks the urgency and necessity of hisWillis-Earl-Beal-Experiments-In-Time-608x605 previous efforts.  Still, Time succeeds where most artists fail: every moment of this is something that could only have been made by Beal.  Everything he does is unmistakably his, a quality that is more and more rare these days.

7.  Hey Rosetta!, Second Sight

Those of you who have followed my blog for years now may be surprised by this band’s new album ranking seventh on my list this year (they’ve released two albums since I started making lists, each one ranking #1 on their release year).  I continue to maintain Hey Rosetta! as my favorite band (although it keeps being by thinner and thinner margins) and my discovery of them about 6 or 7 years ago remains a defining event of my life; alas, nothing stays perfect forever.  There are lots of moments to like on Second Sight, and a few of these songs would turn up on mix CDs I might make of the band; however, the breathless, emotion-drenched moments I crave from them are a bit too infrequent, and the times the band tries to stretch and evolve often sound too under-developed.  Nonetheless: solid, earnest, and soulful.

6.  Mono, The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness

Mono_Rays_review

The premier Japanese post-rock band has finally made their masterpiece in these two simultaneously-released twin albums; Dawn explores the light, uplifting possibilities of this genre, and Darkness its depressing underbelly. Both albums are instant post-rock classics; when listened to back-to-back, it can be a damn-near enlightening experience.

5.  Delta Spirit, Into the Wide

Finally this band, who I have always loved, completely lets loose.  They get big and epic.  These are songs about hearts as big as prairies, unchecked regret, the loss of innocence, and the decay of America.  The tales are told through booming guitar loops and underlying synth structures, long atmospheric intros and cacophonous crescendos.  Singer Matt Vasquez’s voice breaks in just the right places, just the right amount of times, like a pubescent boy finally learning to control the caged beast within.

4.  This Will Destroy You, Another Language

This year, This Will Destroy You entered the small league of BANDS THAT ALWAYS MESS ME UP EMOTIONALLY.  This intense, emotive this willpost-rock group from Texas (where else have we heard of a Texas post-rock band?) started out my year amazingly, as I worked my way through their back catalog and they made my life better.  I was caught off guard late in the year by the release of a new album!  Another Language doesn’t often reach the sublime levels of their early work, but some standout tracks (“Newtopia”, “Dustism”, “Serpent Mound”) can make a comfortable home with their best material.

3. Stars, No One is Lost

Stars-No-One-Is-Lost-608x547

This band just keeps on growing on me.  They are wholly unique.  They fuse an indie/alternative vibe with a pop sensibility and then throw in melancholy, defeatist lyrics for a sound and feeling you simply cannot get anywhere else.  No One is Lost absolutely has to be their best album yet.  You leave it dancing your ass off, but with no idea what to feel.  The emotional confusion that Stars provokes is completely intentional and positively riveting.

2.  Warpaint, Warpaint

Warpaint_-_Warpaint

The album is self-titled, but it isn’t their debut album (it’s their third).  This album slithered under my skin from moment one.  It is sinister, sexy, and deliciously complex.  It is bombastic, mathematical, dynamic, coiled.  It punches, swerves, licks, plays.  The four women in Warpaint refuse to make “chick rock”, but they also do not ignore that they are women; this is rock music made from a woman’s perspective, but for everybody.  It’s not about being a woman, it’s about the experience of life, of living in bodies, the depth of feeling, the smell of smoke, the touch of a raindrop, barely felt.  This album is a sensual gut-punch.

1. Silver Mt. Zion, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

TheeSilverMtZionOrchestra041213

This is not music for everybody.  This band–and especially this album by this band–is a pretty unhappy affair.  It does not focus on the good things in life.  It’s about dirt, pain, rot.  It is, at times, about rising above these things, about triumph–but it is about triumph as afterthought, as happenstance.  This is perhaps not a complete and accurate portrait of life: but it is not a perspective without its truth.

This downtrodden thematic perspective is accompanied by the band’s usual lengthy, repetitive, droning postpunk post-everything mess rock, but with a little (a little) more typical song structure than usual.  Like I said: this isn’t for everybody.  But you know who it is for?  Me.  While not a single song on this album could ever come even remotely close to being played on the radio (I think most radio stations would pay money to keep it away) it is, to me, one of those rarest things in modern music: true art, worthy of museum display.

 

 

3 Responses to “My Favorite Music of 2014”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    80 new-release albums! If you would have asked me I would have guessed there were only 80 new SONGS made in 2014!

    So what’s the deal with Phish? Did they pull a Cher by retiring then un-retiring? Did they retire ever? Am I crazy?

    I’m looking forward to this year’s mix disc especially. I’ve hears exactly none of these songs (I think) but I’ve HEARD OF in a positive light in other places many times. I bet at least one of the above bands will be a new favorite of mine within the next couple months. I can safely make that declaration because there is no Death Cab on the list. Zing!

    • sethdellinger Says:

      There are a few band son here I think you will really like! I am excited for you to hear it! Although there are just as many that you won’t like…to be completely honest! But make sure you give a listen, I am very curious about your reaction!

      About the 80 albums: I by no means purchased all those, and many get listened to once (via YouTube or streaming places like NPR’s website, etc)….there are LOTS of bands I am interested in and I like to stay connected, but if something doesn’t move the heck outta me really quickly, it only gets one listen. And you wonder why I don’t have free time! I also have the paid premium versions of both Pandora and Spotify, as well as Amazon Prime (which, most people don’t know, now also included a music streaming service that rivals Spotify) so I can pretty much be listening to whatever, whenever.

      Phish did break up but got back together around 2008…there has already been a Phish album on my lists since they got back together haha.

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